Should Racist Speech Be Prevented? Many Millennials Say Yes

A large proportion of adults under 35 say it’s OK for the government to set limits on insensitive free speech.
(Photo: Westend61/Getty Images)
Nov 23, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Shaya Tayefe Mohajer is TakePart's News Editor.

Young Americans are less tolerant of public shows of insensitivity to minorities and think the government should be able to intervene to prevent such speech—a notable shift from older generations.

A Pew Research analysis this week found that 40 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds say the government should be able to prevent offensive speech—particularly censorship of offensive statements about minorities. As such, a generation that has helped popularize the term “trigger words” and push the #BlackLivesMatter movement to the level of presidential campaign conversation is now voicing an unprecedented degree of trust in the government to police speech.

“The debate over what kind of speech should be tolerated in public has become a major story around the globe in recent weeks—from racial issues on many U.S. college campuses to questions about speech laws in Europe in the wake of concerns about refugees from the Middle East and the terrorist attack on Paris,” Pew senior researcher Jacob Poushter notes.

Much smaller proportions of older generations agree with the sentiment that government should censor unsavory speech: 27 percent of Gen Xers (ages 35 to 50), 24 percent of baby boomers (ages 51 to 69), and a mere 12 percent of those ages 70 to 89.

Notably, the reaction of American millennials is more in line with what Europeans believe—nearly half of those polled from the European Union said the government should be able to prevent people from saying things that are offensive to minorities.

The number includes responses from Germans, 70 percent of whom believe in some such censorship, the highest proportion to answer that way in Europe. That may be understandable, as the country implemented clear laws against hate speech in the wake of World War II.

In the U.S., the less educated tended to side with censorship in the Pew poll, with 31 percent of Americans of all ages who had a high school diploma or less in support of censorship of racism. Twenty-two percent of Americans with college diplomas agreed such speech should be prevented.